Monthly Archives: January 2010


Welcome to  real estate circa 2010.  I think.  I hope.   It’s January 30th  and we are already a month into it. Time sure flies when you are having…. having…

What is this market we are having?  Do we know?  Is this the market that’s going to preside over the waning debacle of the last decade? Or are we already past that? Is this a different market now?  The new and (un) improved one? Stripped of its heavy baggage? Ready to kick start the beginning of the next ten year cycle?

Has anyone found a pulse strong enough to make a  prognosis or a diagnosis yet?  Has anyone gotten a good read? A glimpse behind the curtain?  Is there someone out there who feels confident enough to stand up in front of  the class and venture a guess – let alone suck up a long deep cleansing breath and tell us in 25 words or less where this is all going, in no uncertain terms?

What to say?  Where to begin? How to know? And in the absence of any real, clear cut answers, how long do we wait around before we pack our bags and  decide that we have to just set out in one direction or another, headed for parts that can only be referred to as unknown?  I don’t think it is a coincidence that Vigo Mortensen and Denzel Washington have recently been summoned up to star in a spate of post-apocalyptic tales like The Road and The Book of Eli. It’s just us projecting onto the big screen so we can look into our own existential mirrors.

Is this the right time to Buy? Sell? Hold? Fold?  Yes. Or no. Or maybe. To some or all of the above.

The worst thing in real estate is uncertainty. The place of not knowing anything even remotely for sure. Real estate revolves around transactions. If no one transacts, nothing moves. Nothing flows. There’s no money available to oil all the parts of the machine sitting idly by.  Escrow Companies, Mortgage Brokers. Real Estate Agents. Everyone is dressed up waiting for those addresses to get going.  Until then, it isn’t much of a party.

In order for the average person to get out of bed,  venture forth, enter into agreement and conclude any kind of business engagement involving something as huge and as  personal as home is,  they have to feel like they know where they stand in relation to the larger world (or market) that surrounds them.

They need reference points.  More of them. Or less of them.  But at least enough of them to instill faith that there really is a right direction to choose.  If  there are no stars visible enough in the night sky or if  the constellations of data being spun are so confusing and so contradictory that it is difficult to discern any recognizable shape or pattern, folks simply stop dead in their tracks. They don’t go forward. They don’t go backward.  They don’t navigate in any direction because they don’t have a map.

Do we want more of the same old that we’ve had?  No, I suspect there aren’t many buyers, sellers, Agents or other constituents that comprise the cast of usual real estate suspects that are lobbying for Door #1. Even if we are hard-pressed to find exact words to describe the vagaries of the no man’s market we’ve been wandering around in for the last year,  or two. or three., we can at least say that we don’t want to go back there for more of the exquisite torture that comes from sitting in the eye of unsettled silence waiting to see if the dreaded dull thud of the other shoe dropping is going to materialize.

What do you think?  Feel free to weigh in with whatever version of realty you’ve managed to make your peace and your resolutions with for the coming New Year.  All plausible explanations are encouraged. Any reasonable plans or strategies for bailing ourselves out of the remains of the great bailout will be thoroughly entertained. Carefully vetted. Stress tested and fully digested. The best of the best or the least of the worse will be culled out and unabashedly shared with other members of our live studio audience in future columns.


To Know or Not to Know

Whew. Do I feel better. The pressure is off.  I don’t have to pretend to be perfect anymore.

For a long time, I’ve been inching my way forward. Cautiously beating around the bush. Discretely spinning my one-sided conversation in these columns towards just the right place in time. The moment when I could remove the gag order and finally blurt out the truth.

Well, it’s come to Jesus time and I’m here to tell you that we real estate agents – whatever we say, no matter how many years we’ve been in the business or how much we fluff up the auras of our own sales personas  –  don’t really know exactly how much your home is worth.

At least not before you agree to put it on the market and steel yourselves for that purgatory of a process otherwise known as listing your home. That’s the one and only way you are ever going to find out.

There can’t be anyone out there actually masochistic enough to enjoy opening their home up to the great washed and unwashed masses of the marketplace.  The game of “show and sell” may ostensibly be an impersonal one but it sure feels like an intensely personal experience when all those prospective buyers and a revolving door of nosey neighbors, lookie loos and curiosity-seekers come trooping through your lives and your dinner times without a lot of grace or prevailing sensitivity.

Sometimes it feels like you are under perpetual siege by the lifestyle police. Sometimes it feels like every showing that goes unrewarded by an offer is a rejection slip handed out to one of the things you have grown to cherish most in your life.

Yes, we Agents all come to visit and perform some version of the old comparative market analysis trick, just before we whip out our bulging brag books and tell you all the incredible things we plan to do to bring more of those prospective buyers and nosey neighbors through your front door.

Somehow we are able to snatch a proposed value out of thin air for that geodesic dome you’ve lovingly remodeled. Even when there isn’t another one remotely like it  between here and Timbuktu. To compare apples and oranges to comparing real estate comps in a place as diverse and eclectic as Santa Cruz,  is a fruitless task.  Specially in this market. Try to find all the similarities between apples and kangaroos and you’ll have a lot more success divining our local market’s secret handshakes and esoteric passwords.

What Agents don’t always tell you is: In the end, it doesn’t matter what we think your home is worth. (We aren’t buying it.) And it doesn’t matter what you think your home is worth. (Most of you wouldn’t or couldn’t buy your own homes in today’s market anyway.)

What matters is what those buyers out there think your home is worth. If you really want to sell your home, that’s just about all that matters. In the end, the truth always emerges out of the grand inquisition of the marketplace, resolved by trial and error and trial by ordeal.

I know you want us to be perfect. And we would dearly love to be perfect. Yes, sometimes, we get lucky and we get it exactly right. (Even a blind agent finds an acorn now and again.) Sometimes we read the auguries well and we get pretty close.

I always figured that if an Agent could predict home values consistently within 5% of their eventual sales prices then that Agent was right up there with Nostradamus, Edgar Cayce and the Oracle of Delphi in terms of his/her prophetic acumen.

A whole lot of other people figured that with the advent of  all the muss and fuss and the great mystery of home valuation would disappear forever.  They were hoping against hype that they could just type in an address, hit the return button and … Voila! –  that great big braniac algorithm in the sky would spit out God’s honest truth and tell us all exactly what every home was worth. Heck, no one would ever be stuck again having to offer anyone coffee or pretend to smile while listening to a sales pitch extolling the virtues of one real estate company over the next.

Well, Zillow’s been around long enough now, along with a slew of sibling-spawn like Redfin and Trulia.  Their results have been even less impressive than those of us real, realty people.  Zillow  has gone through enough accusations and lawsuits to remind us all once again, what we should already know and keep knowing.  No one and no thing has the answer ahead of time. You just have to hitch up your doors and your drawers and make that leap of faith into the unknown.


Open Says Me

I hadn’t worked a “real” weekend open house for a while, so last Saturday, I decided to inaugurate a nice new listing and what I’ll call a  hopeful, New Year, by going “retro” with what has always been a traditional staple of real estate marketing.

I hope my open house was as entertaining for those of you who visited, as it was for me.  I had a great time. Some part of me had forgotten how interesting it is to publish an ad, put up a sign, open the door and just see who decides to wander through on that particular day.

For me it’s like throwing the yarrow stalks and reading the I Ching. Is who comes through really coincidental? Are there deeper meanings that can be drawn from these chance meetings?

What are people looking for? What do they have to say? What are their stories?  What kinds of questions do they ask? What does their presence say about the larger marketplace we live in? It doesn’t really matter if they are actual buyers, part of the entourage of family experts that often accompanies, just curious neighbors or dedicated lookie loos indulging their hobby and/or feeding their jones.

As it usually is with the universe:  When you put something out there you almost always get something back – if you pay attention in the way the Buddhists call ‘beginners mind.’

Call me old-fashioned or maybe just old and out of touch,  I think there’s still room for a kinder, gentler version of the weekend open house.  You know, something much more relaxed, gracious and conversational in tone than those all-out frontal assaults we sometimes get blasted with by over-hyped Agents.

I say “we”, because I  make a point of going to open houses whenever I am out of town. far enough away, so that I can be incognito and experience real estate from as much of a non-Agent’s perspective as possible. Nothing better for honing your craft and hopefully becoming a better human being than making a conscious effort to put yourself in other people’s shoes.

Open houses don’t have to be all about “picking up buyers” as though they were invitations to a happy hour singles bar,  strangers looking for other strangers to entice and shack up with in the purchase of a new home.  Open houses don’t have to be about cornering people for their names and addresses so that they can become part of an ever-expanding empire of spam.  And of course, it isn’t really necessary to follow folks from room to room, pointing out the painfully obvious while callously pushing past the delicate boundaries of their personal comfort zones.

The more you talk, the less they grok  (google it, younger readers) about the essence of the property in question.  The larger you loom, the smaller those rooms get. The more invasive your shadow, the less light there is that seems to filter in through the skylights and those nice big bay windows that are beckoning.

Open houses don’t need to serve lavish spreads of gourmet food or drink.  They don’t have to emulate bingo night and offer free raffle tickets and trips to Hawaii.  Forget the guys in the clown suits waving signs. Leave the helium balloons back at the office.  We don’t all have to be filling the funnel and selling the sell every second of every day.

Open houses can simply be open.  Open for the experience of the house. Open to whomever comes through.  Open to whatever connections get exchanged. Shallower. Deeper.  It’s all good.

In the end, whether Sellers of properties truly understand it or not…homes have to sell themselves. Agents can market them, but they can’t sell them to people who don’t really want to buy them.

There may always be a mythical notion, woven into the culture, that sees the real estate agent as a used-car salesman. The fear that somehow, he/she is going to talk an unsuspecting buyer into an $800,000 Toyota Camry they didn’t plan on driving off the lot. In some ways I’d love to be able to say that I have enough Svengali-like mojo stored up from years of success, to hypnotize a stranger into dropping some really, really serious cash on something that doesn’t speak to them on a much deeper level.  But it ain’t so Joe. It just ain’t so.

If any of you want to come by and join me this weekend,  I’m open for it again.  Click here and get the scoop.